by CHRIS ROGERS
Over 100 million Americans — nearly a third of the population — have some kind of criminal history, according to a 2012 U.S. Department of Justice report. That includes numerous candidates for local office.
Winona mayoral candidate Jovy Rockey’s 2010 conviction for gross-misdemeanor theft generated headlines last month and prompted questions about other candidates’ criminal histories. Seven candidates for city of Winona, Winona County, or Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) office have had some kind of criminal conviction — most of them minor — and have served their sentence. This article does not include petty misdemeanors, which are not considered crimes under Minnesota law.
Winona Area Public Schools
A School Board candidate for WAPS’ district three, Stephanie Smith was found guilty by a jury of misdemeanor obstructing the legal process — interfering with a peace officer in 2013. Smith said she was attacked by two women at a downtown bar and reported the attack to a female police officer who asked Smith to wait while she spoke to the alleged attackers. Meanwhile in the wake of a larger disturbance, a male officer was trying to get everyone — including Smith — to disperse, she said. Smith stated she tried to tell the male officer she was following the female officer’s order to wait. “He tried to physically remove me from the scene, and I was trying to stay there, so there was another altercation that came of that, and I tried to break that up, and I ended up getting Tazed 13 times and maced in the face,” she stated. Police officials said that Smith resisted arrest. An edited video of the event shows an officer struggling to arrest a woman before taking her to the ground; then another officer shocks her with a Tazer. “Honestly, I wouldn’t even try to get it expunged from my record, because I would not even to this day admit that I was doing something wrong,” Smith continued. “I was trying to do the right thing by trying to get these people who attack people in public places, to make sure that they don’t do that to other people. I don’t feel that was even taken care of.”
Smith added, “People end up in terrible situations and sometimes you have to work through it and move on with your life. I’m trying to do good for the community, my children, myself, my family. I want the best school system we can possibly have. I’m very emotional about it, and I would definitely be a voice for any parents who feel like their voice hasn’t been heard.”
City of Winona
Winona City Council candidate Chris Meier is running for the city’s First Ward (far western Winona). He pled guilty to misdemeanor fifth-degree assault in 2004. “I was convicted of something that I don’t feel was a convictable offense,” Meier said. He said he couldn’t discuss all the details on the record, but stated, “I stand up for people’s rights, and I was standing up for my own.” He continued, “We all have things that happened in our life. We’re human … If people want to judge me by that, that’s their choice.”
Will Gibson, a candidate for Winona’s Third Ward (central Winona) City Council seat, pled guilty to misdemeanor careless driving in 2011. “I know for me that was a big wakeup call,” he said in an interview. “In no way do I condone this behavior and don’t belittle the action I took. However, since that day I’ve met and married my wife, changed jobs, buried two important family members, and become a father to two boys. To say my life has changed significantly would be an understatement. I’ve grown up a lot over the last 10 years and now look back at that day truly as careless,” he wrote in an email. The former educator added, “The answers you get wrong on the test are the ones you learn the most from. I try to apply that to my own life.”
Aaron Repinski is seeking election to one of the Winona City Council’s at-large seats. In 2001 in Fillmore County, he pled guilty to theft by check. “It was a complete misunderstanding. He made it right with us,” Mike Burns, the owner of the affected business, said in an interview, explaining that Repinski’s check was mistakenly redeemed before he had actually received the service for which he was charged. Burns stated he talked to police about withdrawing the theft complaint his business made, but said he was told, “Once you turn it in, you can’t stop it.” Repinski explained, “Basically, I accepted a plea deal just to be done with it, just to get it over with and done with, even though I wasn’t guilty.”
Previous reporting on Rockey’s 2010 case is available at www.winonapost.com. “Since that time, I’ve worked hard and with pride for other employers in Winona who can speak to my integrity and my work ethic,” she said.
Winona County Board member Greg Olson is seeking reelection this year. In 2016, he was convicted of gross-misdemeanor test refusal following a driving while intoxicated (DWI) arrest. The DWI charge was dismissed.
An incumbent Winona County Board member seeking reelection, Steve Jacob was convicted of misdemeanor DWI in 2005 in Wabasha County.
Keep reading the Winona Post for more stories on candidates’ positions and find our past articles on election hopefuls and the issues that matter at www.winonapost.com.